My Very Short Take on World War II…: Hoisted from the Archives

Hoisted from the Archives: My Very Short Take on World War II...: From “September 1, 1939,” by W.H. Auden...

...I sit in one of the dives/On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid/As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:/Waves of anger and of fear
Circulate over the bright/And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;/The unmentionable odor of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can/Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now/That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,/What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:/and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return...

NewImage

https://www.icloud.com/pages/0sDN_MGi_vAdd79qSmQ3lIE_Q#2011-01-05--My_Very_Short_Take_on_World_War_II


To Munich

While most other countries continued to stagnate in the Great Depression, the German economy recovered rapidly. But peaceful spending-fueled recovery was not what Hitler thought his regime was about. His regime was about German rearmament: the breaking of the shackles of the Treaty of Versailles that restricted the German military to a total strength of 100,000; and eventually aggressive war with the Soviet Union and the other powers to Germany's east with the aim of increasing the “living space” of the German people.

Hitler announced that Germany was rearming, and met with no complaints. The victorious allies of World War I faced a knotty foreign policy problem. The isolationist United States was uninterested in sending soldiers and garrisons to Europe. The British and French electorates definitely did not want to do World War I again. And Hitler’s program of rearmament and national self-assertion demanded that Britain and France make a choice.

The treaties of Muenster and Osnabrueck in 1648—the Peace of Westphalia—and the earlier peace of Augsburg in 1555 established the principle in European international law that internal affairs were nobody else’s business. Not all rulers agreed. Pope Leo X condemned the Peace of Westphalia. The French revolutionaries sought the overthrow of kings and oppressors and the creation of sister republics all across Europe—until Napoleon taught them the joys of conquest and empire. (The American republic, by contrast, positioned itself as, in the words of John Quincy Adams: “the friend of liberty everywhere but the guarantor only of our own.”) Nevertheless, the idea that it was no concern on one duly recognized government what another did within its borders became one of the strongest taboos of European international law: freedom from nosy oversight was something all governments could agree on.

When you combine this Westphalian sovereignty principle with the particular features of the post-World War I settlement, you brewed an explosive cocktail. World War I ended with a settlement notionally based on the Fourteen Points of Woodrow Wilson. Most important, there was supposed to be:

  • Universal disarmament.
  • The abolition of offensive war—international disputes to be settled by arbitration in the League of Nations.
  • Adjustment of national borders to correspond to linguistic groupings: people should be ruled from a capital where people spoke the same language that they did.

NewImage

When Hitler began his diplomatic campaign he thus had a powerful array of arguments on his side. The Versailles Treaty that had ended World War I had restricted the size of the German army to 100,000. But the other nations of the world had never cut back their own armies. Was Germany to be the only great power to fear invasion from Denmark or Yugoslavia? That was not fair. And the response that Nazi Germany was a pariah nation—ruled by a cruel, oppressive dictatorship—was not a statement that made sense in the language of European diplomacy. Besides, a strong German army could serve as a buffer against communist Russia. (That was, indeed, the argument with which post-World War II West Germany convinced the allies to let it rearm.)

The Versailles Treaty and the other aspects of the post-World War I settlement had tried, imperfectly but as much as was possible, to redraw national borders along linguistic lines. Except for Germany. Linguistic Germans were ruled not just from Berlin but from Rome, from Vienna, from Budapest, from Prague, from Warsaw, from Vilnius, from Paris, by various League of Nations High Commissioners, and even from Bucharest. As long as Hitler restricted his foreign policy goals to (a) removing the restrictions on German armaments that made Germany a less than equal nation, and (b) trying to “settle” national minority problems by redrawing borders to more closely match linguistic lines, it was hard for Britain and France and others to say no.

After all, what did they want to do? Did Britain and France want to invade Germany, depose Hitler, and set up an unstable government bound to be viewed as their puppet in his place, further inflaming German nationalism? Well yes—they did, had they but known what was coming.

But their political leaders did not know the future at the time. In the middle of the Great Depression, French and British political leaders believed that they had bigger problems than enforcing every jot and tittle provision of the Treaty of Versailles, and that they wished to see Germany rejoin the community of western European nations. Since armaments were one of the standards prerogatives of the nation-state, it would be silly in addition to pointless to complain about Germany building its armed forces above the Versailles limits.

Besides, with Germany effectively disarmed there was a power vacuum between the border of the Soviet Union and the Rhine River. Poland and the Soviet Union had fought one war in the early 1920s that had seen the Red Army approach Warsaw before being turned back. Did French and British geopoliticians want to see a possible future Soviet war with Poland end with Communist armies on the Rhine River? Probably not.

In 1936 Hitler broke yet another provision of the Treaty of Versailles: he moved token military forces into the Rhineland, the province of Germany west of the Rhine that had been demilitarized after 1918. Once again it seemed pointless to protest, or to take action. No other European country had demilitarized zones within its borders. To require that Germany maintain a demilitarized zone seemed likely to pointlessly inflame German nationalism. And, once again, to enforce the provision would presumably require an invasion of Germany, the deposition of Hitler, and the installation of a puppet government—for Hitler seemed genuinely popular: there was a substantial risk if not a strong likelihood that new elections would simply return Hitler to power.

In the spring of 1938 Hitler annexed Austria. Austria was inhabited overwhelmingly by ethnic Germans. One principle of the 1919 peace settlement had been, as much as possible and with a few exceptions, to draw national borders along ethno-linguistic lines so that every language had a nation, and everyone speaking a given language lived in the same nation. In annexing Austria, Hitler declared, he was simply gathering the German people into their one nation: reversing a political error committed in the late nineteenth century when the Austrian Germans were excluded from the political boundaries of Germany, an error that would have been corrected in 1919 save for Allied unwillingness to apply the same national self-determination principles to the Germans that they had applied to themselves and to the rest of Europe.

After the annexation of Austria, Hitler turned his attention to a second of the anomalous boundaries of post-World War I Europe: the “Sudetenland.” The northern and western boundaries of Czechoslovakia followed the boundaries of the medieval Kingdom of Bohemia, and included a mountainous region that was the location of all the Czech frontier defenses and was also heavily populated by German-speakers. It took little for Hitler to fund a movement in the Sudetenland that decried oppression and discrimination by Czechs, and that demanded the annexation of the Sudetenland by Germany: the return of German-speakers to the German nation, according to the national self- determination principles of the Treaty of Versailles.

The British government had commitments to defend France; the French governments had commitments to go to war to defend the territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia; Czechoslovakia had no desire to surrender its mountain territories—and its frontier defenses. The British and French governments had no desire to get into a war to prevent the people of the Sudetenland from becoming part of Germany. Moreover, they feared the costs of a war. In the worlds of the novelist Alan Furst, they thought that:

The German bomber force as constituted in a theoretical month—May 1939, for instance—would be able to fly 720 sorties in a single day... 50,000 casualties in a twenty-four hour period. A million casualties every three weeks. And the USSR, Britain, and France were in absolute harmony on one basic assumption: the bomber would always get through. Yes, anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes would take their toll, but simply could not cuse sufficient damage to bring the numbers down...

The western democracies' military advisors feared that World War II would bring the horrors of the World War I trench line to civilians located far from the front.

They were right.

In order to avoid war, on September 29 and 30, 1938, at Munich in Germany, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier reached an agreement with Hitler: Hitler would annex the Sudetenland, would pledge to respect the independence of the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Britain and France would guarantee the independence of Czechoslovakia.

The Czechoslovak representatives were not even allowed in the room where the negotiations took place. Upon his return to Britain, after being applauded by a cheering crowd that saw that general war had been averted, Neville Chamberlain irretrievably blackened his reputation for all time by saying: My good friends, this is the second time in our history [the first time was 1878] that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street [official residence of the British Prime Ministers] peace with honour. I believe it is peace in our time.

Winston Churchill—out of office, and shunned by the other conservative members of the British House of Commons—had a very different view: better to fight Hitler in 1938 before German rearmament was well advanced and with Czechoslovakia as an ally, than to fight him later when Germany was better-armed and Czechoslovakia was gone. "You were given the choice between war and dishonour," Churchill told teh Prime Minister of his own Conservative Party. "You chose dishonour and you will have war." In retrospect Churchill was almost certainly correct. Given what was known about the ruthlessness and violence of the Nazi regime in its own country, it is hard to credit Chamberlain’s belief that Hitler could be “appeased” and pacified by the abandonment of the restrictive military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and by being allowed to absorb all regions occupied by ethnic Germans into his state.

-

From Munich to War

Czechoslovakia and Poland

On March 15, 1939, Hitler annexed the remains of Czechoslovakia, after first having sponsored secessionist movement in the “Slovakia” part of the country. Britain and France took no action. Neville Chamberlain stated:

The effect of this declaration [of independence by the Hitler-sponsored secessionist movement] put an end by internal disruption to the state whose frontiers we had proposed to guarantee [at Munich]. His Majesty's government cannot accordingly hold themselves any longer bound by this obligation...

Within two days Chamberlain had reversed himself. Neville Chamberlain and company extended guarantees to Poland and Romania: German attacks on Poland or Romania would cause declarations of war against Germany by Britain and France. Chamberlain appeared to believe that this commitment would deter Hitler from further adventures.

But why should it? How could Britain help Poland in a war with Nazi Germany? Hitler concluded that the British and French were bluffing. And he wanted to get himself ready for the main course in his foreign policy: the attack east to do to the Slavic populations of European Russia what the United States had done to the Amerindians, and to turn the Ukraine into a huge breadbasket populated by ethnic German farmers on large, mechanized farms.

In the spring of 1939 Hitler turned his attention to Poland, where the German-Polish border after World War I had been drawn not with attention to the ethno-linguistic principle but to give the newly-created Polish Republic at least one port city, and an outlet to the Baltic Sea. Hitler once again demanded the redrawing of borders—the elimination of the “Polish corridor” between the rest of Germany and the province East Prussia. Had the British and French diplomatic policy makers been flinty- eyed realists, they would have shrugged their shoulders: Hitler wants to go east? Let him go east. They would have concluded that a Hitler fighting a series of wars to his east was unlikely to cause them trouble for a while at least. And that if Hitler at some point turned west, then would be the time to deal with him.

But they did not do this. They had guaranteed Poland and Roumania. They doubled down, betting on deterrence. Chamberlain and his Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax, appear to have given very little thought to what would happen if deterrence failed. After all, Hitler must be bluffing too, mustn’t he? Nobody wanted a repeat of World War I, right?

The Nazi-Soviet Pact

And it was at this point that Hitler became interested in a—temporary—alliance with Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Stalin throughout the years of the “Popular Front” and “collective security,” put out feelers to Hitler. Hitler was not interested. Hitler became interested in a deal with Stalin only in 1939, when he recognized how useful Soviet neutrality would be for his conquest of Poland. He and Stalin agreed to split Poland down the middle at the Bug River, and to give the Soviet Union a green light to annex the three Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

On Stalin’s part, this was the mother of all miscalculations. It allowed Hitler to fight three one-front wars in succession—one against Poland, one against Britain and France, and then one against the Soviet Union. Only by the skin of its teeth did the Soviet Union survive until America entered the war and American armies and air forces made it possible for an Anglo- American force to reenter the main theaters of the war. Much better for Stalin and Russia to have fought Germany in 1939 with powerful British and French allies with armies on the continent than to, as he had to, face Germany’s undivided attention in 1941 when no other anti-fascist armies were on the continent of Europe, or would be for two more years. It is always difficult to understand Stalin, or indeed anything about the Soviet Union. “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” Winston Churchill called it. It is possible, however, to guess at what the thinking inside the Kremlin was:

Q: What is Hitler, comrade?
A: Hitler is a tool of the capitalists, comrade.
Q: Why might Hitler wish to wage an aggressive war against the Soviet Union, comrade?
A: To gain cheap access to our raw materials, comrade, so that his big- business capitalist backers can earn higher profits.
Q: So what happens if we offer him as many of our raw materials as possible at an incredibly cheap price, comrade?
A: Then he will not seek to invade, comrade. He will have no reason to do so.
Q: What will happen then, comrade?
A: What always happens in the highest stage of capitalism, comrade. The big capitalist powers become imperialists, and then they fight terrible wars over markets.
Q: Correct. And after the war is over?
A: We will do what we did at the end of World War I, comrade, we will move in and expand the socialist camp.
Q: Therefore our goal, comrade, is?
A: To appease Hitler by providing him with all the raw materials he wants. And then wait for our moment, comrade.

Stalin did not recognize the danger of even a temporary alliance with Hitler. Perhaps it was because he was—wrongly—anticipating a replay of World War I: trench warfare that would lead to a prolonged stalemate on the Franco-German border, during which another generation of young men would be turned into hamburger, another set of bourgeois countries would exhaust themselves, and another group of countries would become ripe for a Moscow-led Communist revolution.

The Start of the War

Thus at the start of September 1939 Hitler and Stalin together moved into and partitioned Poland. And it turned out that Britain and France were not bluffing. They did carry out their commitments. They did declare war on Germany. Hitler attacked the Poles at dawn on September 1. After some hesitation, the British government demanded at 9 A.M. on September 3 that the German army withdraw from Poland. At 11 A.M. Britain declared war. France followed, But their forces were unready and were far from Poland, which fell to Hitler and Stalin in a month. Thereafter for eight months all was quiet on the western front.

It is conventional to damn Chamberlain and Daladier and the other politicians who ruled Britain and France in the 1930s for their actions, and to damn them in the strongest possible terms. They had not destroyed Hitler when he was weak. They had not prepared their countries to fight Hitler when he was strong. They had not even constructed a grand alliance, calling in the New Worlds to redress the balance of the Old World by enlisting the United States and the Soviet Union in the anti- fascist coalition. (Of course, neither country’s decision makers wished to be so enlisted: Roosevelt was hobbled by an isolationist congress, and Stalin was an enigma.)

But there is another point of view. Only one country with a land border with Nazi Germany declared war on it. Everybody else waited until Hitler declared war on them—or, more often, just attacked. That one country was Edouard Daladier’s France. Only one other country, albeit one without a land border with Nazi Germany, ever declared war on it. That country was Neville Chamberlain’s Britain. Admittedly, they declared war only when they saw no other option and thought (correctly) that their political survival was at stake. And they had no idea how to fight the war that they started. But they were willing to put their countries and their people in harm’s way in an attempt to stamp out the greatest tyranny the world has ever seen. Spare a moment for the limited virtue that Edouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain exhibited: it was more than anybody else.

Their virtue was not rewarded.

In May and June of 1940 France fell in six weeks in 1940. To everyone's surprise, Britain—by then led to Winston Churchill—did not then negotiate a peace but kept fighting, daring Hitler to try an invasion across the English Channel. Hitler did not try.

Instead he turned east. In 1941 Hitler turned on the Soviet Union.

When war came to the Soviet Union, and Germany attacked on June 22, 1941, Stalin's first instinct was to tell his troops not to fire back for fear of "provoking" the Germans. As a result, his air force was destroyed on the ground in the first day of the war. And the Soviet armies on the border died (or were taken prisoner) where they stood. In 1941 nearly four million Soviet troops were captured.

NewImage

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

Japan had responded to the Great Depression by turning imperialist.

World War I was a powerful stimulus to Japanese industrialization. Although the Japanese government honored its alliance with the British government and declared war on Germany, its military actions during the war were limited to the largely-peaceful takeover of Pacific islands that Germany had claimed as colonies. However, exports from Europe to Asia effectively ceased during World War I. Where were the countries of Asia to purchase the manufactures that they had purchased from Europe? The growing and industrializing Japanese empire was an obvious source. Industrial production and manufactured exports from Japan nearly quadrupled during World War I. Strong demand for Japanese goods provoked inflation: prices more than doubled during the war.

After World War I the European economies once again began to export to Asia, and the newly-expanded Japanese industries faced heavy competition. The Japanese economy in the first half of the 1920s was also badly hit by the disaster of the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, in which between 50,000 and 100,000 people died. But industrialization continued. Manufacturing surpassed agriculture in terms of the share of national product produced in the 1920s.

Japanese manufacturing originally relied—as had manufacturing in other countries—on the unmarried young woman as its typical worker. From the employers’ point of view, the main problem with this workforce was its relative lack of experience. So over the first half of the twentieth century, Japanese manufacturers worked to try to balance their short-term labor pool of unmarried females with a longer-term cadre of experienced male workers.

What evolved in Japan’s industries was what is now called the “permanent employment system.” Male workers were recruited on leaving school, or as apprentices, and promised effective lifetime employment and regular increases in wages in return or loyal service to the company. The company promised wages, medical care, and pension benefits. It is possible that this permanent employment system flourished in Japan because the system fitted Japanese sociology. It is also possible that Japan avoided the deep recessions that would have given manufacturing firms the incentive to fire their permanent workers.

Cotton textiles, furniture manufacturing, apparel, and a relatively small heavy industrial sector were the heart of the Japanese economy by the 1930s, and this modern manufacturing sector was dominated by the zaibatsu: associations of businesses that exchanged executives, cooperated, owned each other's stock, and relied on the same banking and insurance companies for finance. Japan’s form of financial capitalism seemed to mimic Germany's to a large degree.

The Great Depression had come to Japan in an attenuated form in 1930. Its exports, especially of silk, fell dramatically. The gold standard applied pressure to deflate the economy. Japan responded by cutting loose from the gold standard, and by expanding government spending—especially military spending. The Great Depression touched but did not stun the Japanese economy. More important, perhaps, the Great Depression revealed that the European imperialist powers were in crisis.

So 1931 saw the Japanese government turn expansionist. The extension of Japanese influence into Manchuria was followed by a Manchurian declaration of “independence” as the Japanese client state of Manchukuo. Expansion was followed by rearmament. Rearmament was followed by a full-scale attack on China in 1937. Government orders for war material and for capital goods to construct infrastructure in Manchuria provided a strong boost to Japanese industrial production at home. From 1937 on Japan turned to a war economy: warships, airplances, engines, radios, tanks, and machine guns.

But in order to continue its war against China, Japan needed oil from either the United States, or from what was to become Indonesia—what was then the Dutch East Indies. Roosevelt was anxious to exert what pressure he could on Japan. And in early 1941 the U.S. embargoed exports of oil to Japan—all oil, not just oil from the United States. It is not clear why. And it is not clear why the U.S. did not immediately go to a "war is imminent" footing in the Pacific. Without imports of oil Japan's military machine could not run: the embargo offered Japan a choice between acquiescing in the U.S.'s demands or starting a war at sea to at the very least seize the oil fields of what is now Indonesia.

Faced with the choice of backing down and abandoning the conquest of China, or seizing the Dutch-held oil fields of the southwestern Pacific and probably becoming embroiled in a war with the United States, the Japanese military elected to strike first. On December 7, 1941 attacks began on British, Dutch, and American forces and possessions in the Pacific. Most famous was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that sank the battleships of the U.S. Pacific fleet. Most damaging was probably the attack on the U.S. airbase of Clark Field in the Philippines, which destroyed the B-17 bomber force that might have blocked Japanese seaborne invasions.

-

The War Proper

World War II in Europe began on September 1, 1939. World War II in Asia had already been ongoing for more than two years. The range of belligerents expanded and contracted. In Europe the war began as France, Britain, and Poland against Germany. Poland was conquered by Germany and Russia by the end of September, 1939. Russia attacked Finland, which fought it to a draw and a peace, in the winter and spring of 1940. The spring of 1940 also saw Germany attack and occupy Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg; and conquer France, with Italy joining in on Germany's side.

By the summer of 1940 only Britain was fighting Germany.

In late 1940 and early 1941 Britain acquired Greece and Yugoslavia as allies. But they were conquered by Germany by the spring of 1941. In the summer of 1941 Germany attacked Russia. And on December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and attacked a wide range of U.S., British, and Dutch territories in the Pacific. Germany declared war on the U.S. a day later. (But, curiously enough, Japan remained at peace with Russia.) And the war was truly global.

World War II was a “total” war. At its peak, some 40 percent of U.S. GDP was devoted to the war. Some 60 percent of British GDP was devoted to the war. Some 50 million—plus or minus 10 million—people died in, during, and as a result of war.

Tactics and Operations

How are we to understand World War II? One way is to take a look at the first three major campaigns—the Polish campaign of September 1939, the French campaign of May-June 1940, and the first six months of the Russian campaign from June 22 to the end of 1941.

In the 1939 Polish campaign, the Nazis lost 40,000 soldiers killed and wounded. The Poles lost 200,000 killed and wounded. The Poles also lost about 1,000,000 taken prisoner.

In the 1940 French campaign, the Nazis lost 160,000 soldiers killed and wounded. The allies lost 360,000 soldiers killed and wounded. And the allies also lost 2,000,000 soldiers taken prisoner.

In the first six months of the 1941 Russian campaign, the Nazis lost 1,000,000 soldiers killed and wounded. The Russians lost 4,000,000 soldiers killed and wounded. And the Russians lost 4,000,000 soldiers taken prisoner.

The Nazis were simply better, tactically, at the business of war then any of their enemies. They understood dive bombers, they understood tank columns, they understood surprise and flank attacks and digging in. The interwar German army on which the Nazis built had been one of only 100,000 soldiers. But those 100,000 had learned and developed their business to a terrifying degree of tactical superiority over their enemies. That is the first lesson of World War II: Fight the Nazis, and expect to be tactically outclassed. Expect to lose between two and five times as many soldiers on the battlefield as the Nazi armies do. That is true for everyone at the start of the war, and still true remarkably late—even though the allies did learn.

Moreover, the Nazis’ opponents were operationally outclassed as well. That is the second lesson of World War II: Fight the Nazis, and expect periodically to find large groups of your soldiers overwhelmed, surrounded, cut off, out of supply, fleeing in panic and forced to surrender in large numbers. The last such episode took place in December 1944, less than five months before the collapse of the Nazi regime: the Nazi Fifth Panzer Army surrounded and forced the surrender of nearly the entire U.S. 106th Infantry Division in the Schnee Eifel of the Ardennes.

How did this happen? Well, take a look at the French campaign of 1940. The French are expecting the Nazis to attack through Belgium north of the Ardennes Forest. Instead, the Nazis make their main attack through the Ardennes Forest, against the weak French Ninth Army—weak because the French command thought that the forest, the poor road network, and the Meuse River line would be sufficient additional defenses.

Three days into the battle it was clear that a major Nazi attack was coming through the Ardennes, and the French began to respond. According to Ernest May’s Strange Victory:

At 3 P.M. on May 12 [General] Huntziger signaled La Ferte that he wanted strong reinforcements to repel a prsopective German attack.... Three of the strongest elements in the general reserve proceed[ed] immediately to join Huntziger's Second Army: the Third Armored, Third Motorized, and Fourteenth Infantry divisions.... The infantry division was a crack unit commanded by... General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny... (p. 410)

By May 15, these three divisions had been further reinforced: The French First Armored division had been switched from the Belgian plain to the Ninth Army sector to its south, infantry formations had been ordered to assemble behind the Ninth Army to form a new Sixth Army, and the Second Armored division had been ordered to assemble behind Ninth Army as well. Charles de Gaulle was placed in command of the newly- formed Fourth Armored division, and ordered to attack the southern flank of the incipient German breakthrough. So what happened to all these forces—four heavy armored divisions with perhaps 800 tanks between them, plus a large chunk of the sixteen infantry divisions that were in the French strategic reserve on May 10? They had as many tanks as the seven Nazi panzer divisions that were in the Nazi main thrust.

  • The French First Armored division simply ran out of gas. While it was waiting for the fuel trucks to come up to refuel it, it was attacked by Rommel’s panzer division and destroyed as a fighting unit. (Curiosity: the czar of fuel for First Army--from which the armored division had come--was medieval historian Marc Bloch.)
  • The French Second Armored division, according to William L. Shirer’s The Collapse of the Third Republic: “Orders for the [second armored] division to move... did not come until noon of May 13.... The trains with the tanks and artillery were not able to start until the afternon of the 14th.... The wheeled vehicles with the supplies ran into the panzers racing west from Sedan and, having no combat elements, withdrew south of the Aisne.... The tanks and tracked artillery were finally uinloaded from their flatcars... between Saint-Quentin and Hirson.... The division was hopelessly dispersed over a large triangle between Hirson, La Fere on the Oise, and Rethel on the Aisne...” and was ineffective because its assembly areas had already been overrun by the Nazis.

  • The French Third Armored division retreated to the south as General Huntziger had ordered: he thought its principal task should be to guard the Maginot line against a flanking attack should the Nazis turn south after crossing the Meuse.

  • The infantry formations of the French Sixth Army were, like the French Second Armored Division, overrun by Reinhardt's Sixth panzer division on May 15 and 16 while they were trying to coalesce in their assembly areas.

By May 16, as Shirer puts it (p. 689):

The three heavy [armored divisions] the French had, all of which in May 10 had been stationed... within 50 miles of the Meuse at Sedan and Mezieres, which they could have reached by road overnight, had thus been squandered.... Not one had been properly deployed.... By now, May 16, they no longer counted. There remained only the newly formed 4th [armored division], commanded by de Gaulle, which was below strength and without divisional training...

The French failed in tactics—the comparative battlefield casualties make that clear. The French failed in strategy—opposing the main Nazi attack with the weak Ninth Army while leaving the stronger formations to the north vulnerable to encirclement. Yet the French threw 800 tanks in four armored divisions plus between six and ten infantry divisions in front of the Nazi breakthrough in plenty of time to make a difference—yet (de Gaulle's division aside) they were completely ineffective in a running fight against seven Nazi panzer divisions which had no more tanks and somewhat fewer soldiers than the French reserves committed to oppose them.

Winston Churchill had kissed hands and taken over as First Lord of the Treasury on May 10, 1940. Five days later he received a phone call from the French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud:

We have been defeated. We are beaten. We have lost the battle. The road to Paris is open. We are defeated...

On the sixteenth Churchill crossed the English Channel:

At about 3 PM I flew to Paris in a “Flamingo,” a Government passenger plane, of which there were three. General Dill, Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, came with me, and Ismay.... [W]e... reached [Paris airport] in little more than an hour. From the moment we got out of the “Flamingo” it was obvious that the situation was incomparably worse than we had imagined. The officers who met us told General Ismay that the Germans were expected in Paris in a few days at most.... Reynaud was there, Daladier, Minister of National Defence and War, and General Gamelin.... Utter dejection was written on every face. In front of Gamelin... a map, about two yards square, with... a small but sinister bulge at Sedan.

The Commander-in-Chief [Gamelin] briefly explained what had happened. North and south of Sedan, on a front of fifty or sixty miles, the Germans had broken through. The French army in front of them was destroyed or scattered. A heavy onrush of armoured vehicles was advancing with unheard-of speed.... Behind the armour, he said, eight or ten German divisions, all motorized, were driving onwards, making flanks for themselves as they advanced against the two disconnected French armies on either side.... When he stopped... I then asked: “Where is the strategic reserve?” and, breaking into French, which I used indifferently (in every sense): “Ou est las masse de manoeuvre?” General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, said: “Aucune.”

There was another long pause. Outside in the garden... clouds of smoke arose of large bonfires... venerable officials pushing wheel barrows of archives onto them. Already therefore the evacuation of Paris was being prepared.... [H]ere were two new factors that I had never expected to have to face... the overrunning of the whole of the communications and countryside by an irresistible incursion of armoured vehicles and secondly NO STRATEGIC RESERVE. “Aucune.” I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the great French Army and its highest chiefs?... [O]ne can have, one must always have, a mass of divisions which marhes up in vehement counter-attack at the moment when the first fury of the offensive has spent its force.... I admit this was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life....

Presently I asked General Gamelin when and where he proposed to attack the flanks of the Bulge [that was the Nazi breakthrough]. His reply was “Inferiority of numbers, inferiority of equipment, inferiority of method”—and then a hopeless shrug of the shoulders...

But before we scorn the French army of 1940 as cheese-eating surrender monkeys, remember what happened to the U.S. 106th Infantry Division when Hitler’s Third Reich was on its very last legs, and what happened to Major General Lloyd Fredendall’s U.S. II Corps at Kasserine Pass. Everybody who faced the Nazis did more-or-less equally badly, in their initial encounters at least.

NewImage

Strategy

The tactical and operational superiority of the Nazi armies was a powerful force multiplier. Fortunately for the world and for the allies, it was offset by equally large strategic deficits. Take a look at the high-water mark of Nazi conquest in Europe in November 1942: look especially at the bulge northeast and east of the Black Sea in southern Russia; the orange dots show the positions of the centers of gravity of the German armies committed to the eastern front.

The first question that strikes anyone is this: why are those five armies in the southeast so far extended? What are they doing? The answer for the three southernmost is that they are trying to conquer the Caucasus oil fields. Hitler and his staff were convinced that Germany cannot continue the war unless the conquer more oil fields than simply the Roumanian ones around Ploesti.

As it happens, they were wrong—their subordinates were lying to them about how much fuel they had and how much they were using (one of the defects of command-and-control central planning). But Hitler was convinced that everything must be risked to conquer the oil fields.

The two dots further north are the Nazi Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies. They are trying to capture the bombed-out rubble that had been the city of Stalingrad. It’s unclear why—other than that the city was named after Russian dictator Josef Stalin, that is. Capture of Stalingrad and the Volga River banks on which it sat would not provide better flank protection for the armies further south than a position back at Kalach on the River Don. And the Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies had to worry about their own flank—the long gap between them and the German Second Army to their west-northwest that was covered only by eastern European allied troops with a low standard of equipment and an even lower standard of morale.

NewImage

The Russians attempted two great winter offensives in the winter of 1942- 1943. Operation Mars was directed against the center of the Nazi line, near Moscow: it was a failure with heavy casualties. Operation Uranus was directed against the long exposed Nazi flanks near Stalingrad: it was a total success, surrounding and capturing the entire German Sixth Army (and large chunks of the Fourth Panzer Army as well) and forcing a precipitous withdrawal of the Nazi forces further south away from the oil fields and bank toward Germany. It was an extraordinary victory—and one made possible only by the extraordinary strategic lapses that had created Nazi eastern front dispositions as they stood in late 1942.

In the long run these strategic lapses were not something the Nazi regime could afford. Consider the time series of the number of German troops killed or missing month-by-month from the start of 1941 to the end of 1944. From the start of Russian theater operations in June 1941 on, with occasional pauses, the Nazis lose about 50,000 German soldiers killed and missing every month. Nazi Germany has an ethnic German population of perhaps 60 million, with perhaps 15 million men of potential military age. Half of those can be mobilized—no more unless the Nazis were willing to go against their ideology and mobilize women for war work on a large scale, which they were not. With a maximum potential army strength of only 7.5 million, losing 50,000 a month is a very heavy burden.

NewImage

Thus the Nazi army simply could not afford the December-January 1943 spike which is the surrender of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad, the April-May spike which is the surrender of the Nazi army group in Tunisia, and the million-soldier spike which is the surrender of the Nazi Army Group Center under the impact of Russia’s Operation Bagration in the summer of 1944. Better Nazi strategy that did not undermine their tactical and operational edge would have prolonged the war. Perhaps it would have won it: a Nazi Germany that chose its enemies and fought until they were defeated might have been a much more dangerous and evil thing than a Nazi Germany that attacks Russia while still fighting a war with Britain, and that then declares war on the United States on December 8, 1941 just because.

-

Logistics

But even the best strategy coupled with its operational and tactical advantages would probably not have won World War II for the Nazis. The logistical and productivity differentials were just too great. This table is perhaps the only thing you really need to know to understand why the allies won World War II: it shows war production of the major belligerents, with the U.S. in 1944 set equal to 100.

From 1942 on, once the war had become a truly global war, Hitler’s defeat was nearly inevitable. Even Britain alone was matching Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe in war production. Throw in the United States and the Soviet Union, and Germany was outproduced more than eight to one; Germany and Japan together were outproduced more than six to one.

NewImage

A three-to-one tactical advantage in casualties does not help when you are outnumbered in tanks and aircraft by eight to one, and outnumbered in potential military manpower by ten to one. Starting in the fall of 1942 a large number of important battles go against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan: Midway northwest of Hawaii, Guadalcanal on the way from the U.S. to Australia, El Alamein in Egypt, ONS5/SC30 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and most of all Stalingrad and Operation Uranus. By their end it is very clear who will win the war if they want to keep fighting. It was not, said Churchill, the end. It was not even, said Churchill, the beginning of the end. But it was the end of the beginning.

U.S., British, and Russian armies met in the rubble that had been Germany in the spring of 1945; Adolf Hitler committed suicide as the Russian armies closed in on his Berlin command post. Japan, atom-bombed, firebombed, blockaded, and threatened with invasion, surrendered in the summer of 1945.

NewImage

-

Death and Destruction

When World War II ended, perhaps 40 million in Europe (and perhaps 10 million in Asia) were dead by violence or starvation. More than half of the dead were inhabitants of the Soviet Union. But even west of the post- World War II Soviet border, perhaps one in twenty were killed—close to one in twelve in Central Europe. In World War I the overwhelming proportion of those killed had been soldiers. During World War II fewer than half of those killed were soldiers.

European Jews: 6M (70%)
Poland: 6M (16%)
Soviet Union: 26M (13%)
Germany: 8M (10%)
Japan: 2.7M (4%)
China: 10M (2%)
France: 600K (1%)
Italy: 500K (1%)
Britain: 400K (1%)
United States: 400K (0.3%)

Material damage in World War II was spread over a wider area than in World War I. Destruction in the First World War was by and large confined to a narrow belt around a static trenchline. Although material destruction along the trenchline was overwhelming, it extended over only a small proportion of the European continent. World War II’s battle sites were scattered more widely. Weapons were a generation more advanced and more destructive. World War II also saw the first large-scale strategic bombing campaigns. The aftermath of World War II saw many of Western Europe’s people dead, its capital stock damaged, and the web of market relationships torn. Relief alone called for much more substantial government expenditures than reduced tax bases could finance. The post- World War I cycle of hyperinflation and depression seemed poised to repeat itself. Prices rose in Italy to 35 times their prewar level. France knocked four zeroes off the franc.

-

What If?

Had World War II gone otherwise, we would live in a very different world.

Had Franklin D. Roosevelt decided in the spring of 1941 that with Europe ablaze it was unwise for the U.S. to try to use an economic embargo of militarily-necessary oil to pressure Japan to withdraw from China, 1945 would probably have seen the U.S. and Japan at peace, the coastal provinces of China Japanese-occupied colonies, the interior of China an anarchy, and the prestige of the Japanese military that had established this co-prosperity sphere greatly heightened.

Had the British and French governments been willing to use force to remove Hitler when he occupied the Rhineland in 1936, or threatened Czechoslovakia in 1938, there would have been no World War II in Europe. Had Stalin allied with Britain and France and declared war on Germany when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, in all probability Hitler would have been crushed and World War II in Europe ended by the end of 1941. Had anyone other than Winston Churchill become British Prime Minister in 1940—had Nevile Chamberlain remained, or had Lord Halifax assumed the post—then the British government would almost surely have negotiated a separate peace with Germany in 1940. When Germany attacked Russia in 1941, it would have done so with its full strength. Stalin’s regime would probably have collapsed, and European Russia up to the Urals (and perhaps beyond) have become German territories, colonies, or puppet states.

It is not likely that Hitler would have refrained from attacking Russia in any possible universe. The need to do so was buried too deeply in his world view to be denied.

Last, what if Hitler had not declared war on the United States in 1941? Would Roosevelt have been able to get congress to declare war on Germany on the grounds that all the Axis powers were allied, or would congress have insisted on concentrating on fighting Japan first? If the second, then would Britain and Russia have been able to defeat Germany by themselves, or would 1945 have seen the United States dominant in the Pacific and Germany dominant in Europe?

We do not know. We do know that most of the alternative ways that World War II might have gone would trade a postwar period with a Communist evil empire centered in Moscow and dominant over eastern Europe for a postwar period with a Nazi evil empire centered in Berlin and dominant over all Europe, or perhaps Eurasia. Not an improvement. We are very lucky that World War II was not even worse for humanity than it was.

Weekend Reading: Belle Waring: If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride–A Pony!: Best Weblog Post EVAR (Smackdown/Hoisted)

Clowns (ICP)

A lot of intellectual energy in the early 2000s was a reaction to the installation by a five-to-four vote of a manifestly unqualified president--and the huge wave of justificatory bullshit that the Noise Machine generated around that in the form of clouds of misinformation to hide reality. People with platforms began calling it out, hoping to find other people to talk to to check whether they were being gaslighted or not.

The finest example of this I have ever seen was Belle Waring's Best Weblog Post EVAR from 2004. It's a thing to remember. If aspect of the Reagan presidency were real tragedy, and the entire Bush 43 presidency was tragic farce, what is this about to be?

Belle Waring (2004): If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride--A Pony!: "I think Matthew Yglesias' response to Josh Chafetz' exercise in wishful thinking was about right...

...even if Brad DeLong's is more nuanced.

I'd like to note, though, that Chafetz is selling himself short. You see, wishes are totally free. It's like when you can't decide whether to daydream about being a famous Hollywood star or having amazing magical powers. Why not--be a famous Hollywood star with amazing magical powers! Along these lines, John has developed an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony!

So, in Chafetz' case, he should not only wish that Bush would say a lot of good things about democracy-building and fighting terrorism in a speech written for him by a smart person, he should also wish that Bush should actually mean the things he says and enact policies which reflect this, and he should wish that everyone gets a pony. See?

John came up with this "and a pony" scheme during a discussion we were having about crazy libertarians. (He was bathing Zoë as I told him about the article I'd read, and Zoë chimed in that she wanted to get a pony too. Duly noted.)

Reason recently published a debate held at its 35th anniversary banquet. The flavor of this discussion is indescribable. In its total estrangement from our political and social life today, its wilfull disregard of all known facts about human nature, it resembles nothing so much as a debate over some fine procedural point of end-stage communism, after the state has withered away. Child-care arrangements, let's say. Position A: there will be well run communal creches! Position B: nonsense! the amount of work required from each individual to maintain a perfectly functioning society will be so small that people can care for their own children and those of others on a spontaneous basis, as the need arises!

Allow me to summarize.

Richard A. Epstein: even in the libertarian utopia, some forms of state coercion will be required. If we must assemble 100 plots of land to build a railway which will benefit all, and only 99 owners will sell, then we may need to force a lone holdout to accept a fair price for his land. Similarly, the public enforcement of private rights and the creation of infrastructure will require money, so there will have to be some taxes. [Note to self: no shit, Sherlock.]

Randy Barnett: Not so fast! Let's cross that bridge when we come to it rather than restricting liberty in advance. We'll know a lot more about human liberty in the libertarian utopia, and private entrepreneurs will solve these problems somehow without our needing to grant to governments the dangerous ability to confiscate our property in the name of some nebulous "public good." And as for rights enforcement -- look it's Halley's Comet!

David Friedman: Epstein places too much confidence in his proposed restrictions on government power. Rights could be enforced privately, and imperfect but workable solutions to the holdouts in the railway case could also be found. "To justify taxation we need the additional assumption that rights enforcement cannot be done by the state at a profit, despite historical examples of societies where the right to enforce the law and collect the resulting fines was a marketable asset."

Now, everyone close your eyes and try to imagine a private, profit-making rights-enforcement organization which does not resemble the mafia, a street gang, those pesky fire-fighters/arsonists/looters who used to provide such "services" in old New York and Tokyo, medieval tax-farmers, or a Lendu militia. (In general, if thoughts of the Eastern Congo intrude, I suggest waving them away with the invisible hand and repeating "that's anarcho-capitalism" several times.) Nothing's happening but a buzzing noise, right?

Now try it the wishful thinking way. Just wish that we might all live in a state of perfect liberty, free of taxation and intrusive government, and that we should all be wealthier as well as freer. Now wish that people should, despite that lack of any restraint on their actions such as might be formed by policemen, functioning law courts, the SEC, and so on, not spend all their time screwing each other in predictable ways ranging from ordinary rape, through the selling of fraudulent stocks in non-existent ventures, up to the wholesale dumping of mercury in the public water supplies. (I mean, the general stock of water from which people privately draw.) Awesome huh? But it gets better. Now wish that everyone had a pony. Don't thank me, Thank John.

UPDATE: John wants me to point out that he got the idea from a Calvin and Hobbes strip in which little Susie first wishes that Calvin was nicer, then realizes she might just as well wish for a pony while she's at it. So, thank that Calvin and Hobbes guy, or something.

2ND UPDATE: Thanks to Ben Wolfson for alerting us to the miracle of searchable Calvin and Hobbes! (Now get to work on your abandoned wasteblog, Ben.) Here is the original 'might as well wish for a pony' strip. I humbly submit that it deserves to be a catch-phrase. Just say 'plus a pony' on suitable occasions and watch your opponents whither away like the state itself.


And the references are succumbing to linkrot. So let me fix that:


Brad DeLong (2004): "I Know! George Bush Should Make a Speech!": Matthew Yglesias is overcome with laughter:

Matthew Yglesias: Hahahahahah: This is really very funny.

OxBlog: Posted 8:36 AM by Josh Chafetz: I THINK... [George W. Bush] should make... [a speech] devoted to... the strategic vision behind the war on terror. I want to hear an hour-long address that does the following things:

(1) Discusses the dangers... and why they need to be met with a military response. (2) Defends the Bush Doctrine that regimes that harbor terrorists will be treated as terrorists. (3) Lays out Bush's understanding that despotism and oppression are root causes of terrorism, and explains his vision for international democracy promotion.... (4) Explains how non-military options are also being used to promote these goals.... (5) Explains how the war in Iraq served a number of goals related to the above points.... Saddam was a destabilizing force... brutal... democratization has important cross-border effects....

(6) Is honest about the lack of WMD in Iraq. Promises (and follows up on) a good faith effort to find out why our intelligence was faulty.... (7) Lists the countries that made up our coalition in Iraq. Points out that calling the war "unilateral" is an insult to these allies, many of whom are significant players.... (8) Emphasizes the importance of rebuilding... civil society... not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but everywhere that seeks to overcome a legacy of despotism and oppression. This is not just the right thing to do, it is also the right way to protect America.

That -- written by Michael Gerson, of course, who is an incredible speechwriter -- is the speech I want to hear. And that kind of bold statement would not only reassure the American people that Bush knows what he's doing (his new ads say that he knows what he wants to do, but they don't tell us), it would also put Kerry on the defensive.

I agree with Yglesias. Josh Chefetz has made a rather large category mistake. Chafetz just wants to hear Bush say that he is doing these things--and when he hears them, he will be happy, for "Michael Gerson... is an incredible speechwriter."

I, by contrast, don't want to hear George W. Bush say he will do these things. I want him to do (some of) these things (and I want him to do somewhat different things). I want to watch him do the following:

  1. Attack the problem of Al-Qaeda and its ilk through a unified response--military, intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic.

  2. Not necessarily treat regimes that harbor terrorists as terrorists (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Boston, anyone?), but make them aware that nothing good will happen for them as long as they harbor terrorists, and that invasion is definitely something that we are thinking hard about.

  3. Promote democracy around the world, rather than just pretend to.

  4. Undertake a serious development and global health effort, rather than just pretend to.

  5. Explain the real reasons we attacked Iraq--it wasn't that we failed to realize what Hans Blix's findings meant for the reliability of our intelligence, was it?

  6. Retire the architects of the intelligence debacle--Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and company. People foolish enough to take exiles' statements at face value don't belong in government.

  7. Apologize to those of our allies who thought that containment and inspections was a successful policy in late 2002 and early 2003.

  8. Put Marshall Plan-scale resources into building civil society in the Middle East, rather than just pretend to.

But there's no chance of any of that, is there? No chance of any real policy change.

So all Josh Chafetz dares hope for is a speech.


Matthew Yglesias (2004): Hahahahahah: "This is really very funny.

UPDATE: Josh snarks my snark but, in all honesty, the thing you've got to understand is that I write serious political commentaries on a daily basis as my job, so here on the personal blog things run toward the low road.


(2004): Unreason: Coercion vs. Consent: A Reason debate on how to think about liberty: "Richard A. Epstein, Randy Barnett, David Friedman, and James P. Pinkerton...

...The following exchange got underway at the Reason 35th anniversary banquet, which was held last November in Los Angeles. Keynote speaker Richard Epstein, the eminent legal theorist and author of the new Skepticism and Freedom, delivered a provocative talk about the foundations of libertarianism titled "The Ambiguities of Reason: Of Large and Small ‘r’s." For the spirited dialogue below, we adapted Epstein’s comments and invited three responses, which are followed by a final comment by Epstein.

The Limits of Liberty: Why we need taxation and eminent domain: Richard A. Epstein:

Perhaps the most fundamental question we face is how to think about liberty. Some libertarians stress the formal power of logic to resolve hard questions. They insist that all rights and duties flow from a necessary conception of individual autonomy or self-rule that allows all individuals to do whatever they wish with their own lives so long as they do not interfere with the like liberties of other individuals. No person may use force or deception against other people, either for his own advantage or for the advantage of third persons.

This moral imperative holds seemingly without regard for its social and economic consequences. Political organizations should adapt to this strong conception of rights and duties, the argument goes, and not yield to whim or fashion. Given this simple premise, individuals may use their own labor to acquire property, to exchange their labor or property with others, or to form complex business, social, and charitable organizations.

This strong intuitive conception of rights and duties tightly corresponds to our ordinary concept of right and wrong behavior. Most people do not seek to order their daily lives by discerning the origins of property in the mists of history; nor do they typically ponder the larger questions of public finance and political organization. But they are taught from birth to be neither bullies nor cheats. In dealing with life-size events, they adhere unswervingly to these simple basic principles. Why then resist their universal application? The content of the rules is clear, and any effort to switch to some calculus that weighs consequences case by case would at best yield indeterminate results, which would in turn heighten overall social insecurity. Better not to scratch beneath the surface. Even if these rules are not necessary truths, we should still treat them as such. Deductive principles order practical affairs well.

Unfortunately, this principle of personal guidance does not supply us with a comprehensive theory of social organization. First, there is the question of philosophical foundations. Can we really support any kind of political order that pays no conscious attention to the consequences it generates? On this point, the ostensibly deductive view is right to shun judging individual actions one case at a time. But this detached form of analysis really should be regarded as a form of closet consequentialism. Setting up public institutions to pass on all individual actions becomes so costly and intrusive that it flunks the standard of good government in just those consequentalist terms. But it is possible to moor this judgment of political structure in a keen appreciation of the mainsprings of human nature, which yields a decidedly mixed picture of the best and worst in human behavior.

We start with the biological observation that no individual could survive in a world of scarce resources without a strong measure of self-interest, one that includes at the very least his own family and close associates. That self-interest can manifest itself in one of two ways when dealing with strangers; through either aggression or cooperation.

The overall social consequences of these two approaches are massively different. With force, one person wins while the other person loses. With cooperation, both persons win. This simple observation underlies the consequentialist explanation for the libertarian preference for agreement over coercion: Take that arrangement that leaves both parties better off than they are under the alternative legal order. Contracts result in joint improvements, such that the greater the ease of contracting, the greater the gains from cooperation. Coercion creates at least one loser for every winner, where the losses (e.g., death, rape, or theft) can be huge relative to the gains on any intuitive interpersonal comparison of utility. When the odds are right, any individual may find it in his interest to use force or deception, but from a social point of view this conduct merits strong condemnation. The basic libertarian imperatives are well-grounded in human nature.

Yet just how far does this insight go in a practical sense? To hang your hat on empirical regularities is to retreat from the language of absolutes and to invite exceptions to general rules. If our ultimate criterion asks what arrangement leaves all parties better off than they are under the next best alternative, there may be cases where the dominance of agreement over coercion should be displaced. In fact, there are: Some contracts are suspect, and some force is justified.

In dealing with ordinary contracts of sale or partnership, we tend to ignore the consequences of these joint efforts on third parties, which any comprehensive social theory should take into account. In most cases, happily, these external effects are positive. Two or more traders not only increase their own wealth and happiness but also expand the opportunities for trade and advancement for others. But a contract to kill a third person has the opposite effect. Indeed, it is precisely because contract yields gains from trade to the participants only that we worry about such agreements, now called conspiracies, because of the threat they pose to the basic rights of liberty and property of others. We are now faced with the difficult practical question of how to identify these rights-threatening arrangements, to punish them if they achieve their object, and, more important, to nip them in the bud.

Concerns about bad contracts are not limited to such situations. Contracts that seek to bribe individuals to violate previous agreements are similarly dangerous. More controversially, contracts that operate in restraint of trade are also possible candidates for special treatment once it is accepted that overall levels of social output are higher under competition than under monopoly. Exactly what should be done with these arrangements, assuming that they can be properly identified, is no easy task, given the political risk that perfectly sensible business arrangements will be attacked by government action -- as is often the case when aggressive competition is branded "predatory" pricing, a dubious appeal to the libertarian norm against predation by the use of force.

Sometimes the strong libertarian synthesis breaks down in the opposite direction. The most conspicuous illustrations are condemnation and taxation, each of which contemplates the use of force against ordinary persons who have neither committed any wrong nor breached any promise. Yet it is in my view impossible to maintain any per se rejection of these two venerable if dangerous institutions, both of which are not only consistent with limited government but required by it.

The libertarian prohibition against force does not take into account the possibility that successful cooperation in key situations can be thwarted by individual holdouts. It will not be possible to build a railroad from point A to point B solely by getting the cooperation of 99 out of 100 private landowners along the way. The last one (indeed all) must be brought into line, and the way to do it is to compel the purchase by paying them the highest value of the land in any alternative use whose value is not dependent on the railroad that is about to be built. The public, including those whose property is condemned, gain the benefit of the railroad, but if compensation is correctly calculated -- a big if -- no individual suffers financial deprivation in the process. State coercion is used to create the win/win situations found in private contracts.

What works in condemnation cases helps explain taxation as well. The public enforcement of private rights and the creation of infrastructure through condemnation both need money that only compulsory exactions can supply. But once the coordination and holdout problems are overcome, much work has to be done to prevent massive abuses from working their way into the system. The flat tax is one sensible limitation on the power of taxation (others can be devised as well), for it allows state funding to vary in amount without picking on one segment of the population.

In sum, the central challenge to any political theory is to devise a set of institutions that first allows and then controls the use of coercion against individual citizens for their own benefit. In light of the justifications that have been put forward here, one could ask the question whether these concessions to state power amount to a backhanded capitulation to the modern welfare state, where any claim of the government to action in the public interest is sufficient to justify state intervention.

The short answer to that question is no. Indeed, there is a strong sense in which exactly the opposite happens. The traditional deductive form of libertarianism allows for state force to protect against aggression and fraud. The more complex version recognizes that state power is also appropriate to overcome holdout problems by the limited use of force. This two-tier inquiry clearly legitimates some forms of government action, but by the same token it makes the case against state intervention stronger in those settings where none of these justifications are available. It is easy to see why the state should keep its hands off the substantive terms of labor contracts in a deductive libertarian world. Hence we should get rid of minimum wage, antidiscrimination law, collective bargaining statutes, and mandatory pension and insurance regulation. Systems of price and rent control similarly go by the boards, as does the full range of tariffs, anti-dumping laws, and other impediments to international trade.

We arrive at the same results even after we recognize the legitimate state role in condemnation and taxation. Unregulated labor and product markets present no coordination and no monopoly problem. The basic libertarian position in favor of competitive markets is thus strengthened by allowing in principle a broader range of state justifications, none of which works in these cases. Removing these ordinary activities from the thrall of government regulation should increase the tax base and thus reduce the need for taxation, while simultaneously increasing the liberty and prosperity of all. The greater level of wealth should in turn reduce the calls for redistribution of wealth by state action, which in turn will reduce if not eliminate much of the welfare state. Government will still be larger than deductive libertarians might want, but it will be far smaller than the current bloated state.

Our limited use of coercion is done with the paradoxical intention of expanding the scope of individual freedom. It is always dangerous business, but it is only with a conscious awareness of how we must both use and limit government power that we shall find the intellectual tools to resist a descent into the all-powerful welfare state. The practical success of our endeavors depends on the ability to avoid not only the dangers of the all-powerful welfare state but also any categorical reluctance to use coercion to initiate forced exchanges that benefit us all.

Richard A. Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, is the author, most recently, of Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism (University of Chicago Press).

The Lesser Evil: Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease: Randy Barnett:

For most of his career, Richard Epstein has been urging libertarians to expand the exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force beyond self-defense, detention of rights violators, and restitution to include using forced transfers to solve the economic problems of "holdouts" and "free riders." Holdouts would be addressed by eminent domain, free riders by taxation. He justifies both of these expansions on consequentialist grounds.

In his writings on contract law, however, Epstein has insisted that we do not want to make categorical exceptions to contractual enforcement that are so malleable that people can define themselves into them at will. He allows that some agreements can be voided, such as contracts signed under duress or as a result of material misrepresentation, but each justified exception amounts to a direct or indirect way to police force or fraud. As he has written: "The rules in question should not create artificial incentives for parties to lower the level of competence they bring into the marketplace. It is dangerous to allow people to plead their own incompetence in any transaction that they wish, with the benefit of hindsight, to repudiate."

I am not sure he has adequately appreciated how his instincts about contract law defenses apply as well to the categories of free riders and holdouts. It is far too easy to assert the existence of these barriers to trade, and far too difficult to defeat unjust expansions of the use of force when these exceptions are allowed, even if he is right that some such problems are otherwise insoluble. If so, then the cure could well be worse than the disease, and no amount of fancy economic analysis can establish otherwise. The consequence of rent-seeking -- of interest groups using the coercion of the state to acquire unearned benefits for themselves -- matters as much as the consequence of failing to build a road. Ask the residents of Poletown, whose Detroit neighborhood was destroyed by eminent domain to build a General Motors assembly plant. Ask the Atlantic City client of the Institute for Justice who successfully resisted the condemnation of her house to erect a parking lot for Trump Towers.

I know that Epstein’s theory of the Takings Clause would restore the requirement of "public use" that would prevent using eminent domain to transfer rights from A to B, and I agree his approach is better than what we now have. But who’s to say that these takings for the "public good," as opposed to public use, do not increase aggregate welfare? Who’s to say that the welfare created by General Motors remaining in Detroit is not greater than the welfare of the families who must leave their homes? Who’s to say that the parking lot to be used by thousands does not create greater welfare than a house used by just one woman?

Due to limitations on our knowledge, we have little choice but to rely on the principle of freedom of contract to answer these questions, however imperfectly. Unlike self-defense and restitution, exceptions for free riders and holdouts cannot be justified as the enforcement of the rights of others. Authorizing force in defense of individual rights is a necessary evil to address the problem of compliance when persons put their own interests ahead of respect for the rights of others -- rights that are themselves necessary, on consequentialist grounds, to solve the pervasive problems of knowledge and interest. Caution should be our guide in pursuit of better consequences than properly defined individual rights provide.

Of course, to some extent this debate is moot. If we ever get to a libertarian world in which these are the only forms of coercion still existing beyond self-defense, etc.,we will know a lot more about how liberty actually works and how to achieve it politically than we do now. We will be in a much better position to decide whether to abolish these practices along with all the other vestiges of the welfare state. I should live so long.

Why then debate them now? For the same reason Epstein has been harping on these points for decades. We debate the form of the ideal end stage as part of the debate over whether to take any further steps in its direction. Epstein clearly believes that a more sympathetic and defensible end state is one in which these additional exceptions for free riders and holdouts exist. On this, I have always had my doubts.

I do not think that Epstein has ever seriously addressed the alternative ways of solving these problems that have developed historically on the market, and which libertarians propose be extended to address the problem of so-callled "public goods." "Public goods" are more a construct than an artifact of the world. It is often only a lack of imagination by academic economists that prevents them from seeing a solution. Indeed, one of the functions of entrepreneurs, as opposed to academics, is to figure out how to make a public good into an excludable private good.

Such techniques include creating the fencing technology needed to exclude free riders (think of the walls around movie screens and theater stages), tying nonexcludable goods to excludable goods, and such legal devices as conditioned contracts that go into legal effect only when a sufficient number of persons have agreed to pay for a particular project. Holdouts are dealt with by real estate developers assembling parcels of land in a variety of ways. I am not sure anyone can prove that these alternatives to takings and taxation will definitely increase aggregate social welfare. But I am certain no one can prove the opposite either.

This is not to deny that consequences matter, a point on which Epstein and I agree. Indeed, I think there are very few libertarians today for whom consequences are not ultimately the reason why they believe in liberty. The issue is always how best to achieve good consequences. As Epstein notes, making no exception to a general prohibition on the use of force is not an option. Self-defense is an exception, as is forcible compensation, and anyone who studies the common law of torts, contracts, and property knows that other exceptions are built right in to the doctrines that define the liberal conception of several property and freedom of contract.

The remaining dispute is over whether we should expand the exceptions to include holdouts and free riders simply because economic theory seems to suggest that only coercion can deal with them effectively. Epstein is convinced. I am not. I would prefer to jump off that bridge if and when we ever come to it, and only after the alternatives are thoroughly explored. I see no reason, whether tactical or principled, to let economic theory trump liberal rights when experience shows these problems are so often solved by entrepreneurs without benefit of any special license to expropriate the property of others without their consent.

In the end, we must never forget that permitting self-defense, restitution, and preventive actions against standing threats gives rise to the problems of power: enforcement error and abuse. Every additional exception legitimating the use of force, such as taxation and takings, further aggravates these serious social problems. The fact that we must take three steps down a dangerous road does not, by itself, justify taking two more, as Epstein seems to imply. Especially when, unlike force that responds to previous violations of rights, the problems of knowledge and interest surrounding these additional exceptions permit enormous opportunities for rent-seeking by those who can credibly claim to be increasing welfare by pursuing the "public good."

Randy Barnett is the Austin B. Fletcher Professor at Boston University School of Law, and the author of The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law (Oxford). His latest book is Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty (Princeton).

Swallowing the Rule: Epstein overestimates the power of his proposed limits on state action: David Friedman:

Like Richard Epstein, I find versions of libertarianism that claim to deduce it by straightforward arguments from fundamental principles unsatisfactory. One reason is that libertarians, like other people, have no convincing arguments to show that their principles are true. Another is that concepts such as rights, property, and coercion are very much more complicated, and less susceptible to simple rules and sharp definitions, then such versions of libertarianism generally suppose.

While we cannot logically derive our values, we have them. So do other people. Fortunately, human values vary a good deal less than one might suppose from reading political philosophers. Few egalitarians would prefer a society where everyone had a real income of $1,000 to one where incomes ranged from $90,000 to $100,000. Few Rawlsians would choose to improve the lot of the world’s worst-off person by one dollar at the cost of massively reducing the welfare of everyone else in the world. And few libertarians, however hard-core in theory, would choose a perfectly free society of desperate poverty over one slightly less free and very much wealthier. Almost everyone, in my experience, values most of the same things, although not with identical weights. It is easy for both libertarians and socialists to claim to support their principles whatever the consequences -- when each group believes the consequences would be, on very nearly all dimensions, the most attractive society the world has ever seen.

If most people have at least roughly similar values, and if libertarians are correct about what sort of society libertarianism would produce, we need not justify our own values in order to argue for libertarianism. All we need do is to show that a libertarian society would be more attractive, by widely shared standards, than any alternative -- wealthier, wiser, freer, more just, better for poor as well as rich. That is, after all, what most libertarians believe.

Having adopted that strategy, I am sympathetic to Epstein’s approach: Derive a legal and political system from the practical requirements for achieving the things humans want to achieve. My disagreement is with his conclusions.

To begin with, he is too pessimistic about the possibility of achieving important objectives without the state. Consider his claim that "the public enforcement of private rights and the creation of infrastructure through condemnation both need money that only compulsory exactions can supply."

The rights half of that claim assumes that private rights must be publicly enforced, despite a considerable number of societies where rights enforcement was produced privately. The infrastructure half assumes that the sort of coordination problems associated with building roads cannot be solved, imperfectly but adequately, by private mechanisms -- despite real-world examples where they have been.

Even if we accept those assumptions, the conclusion still does not follow. To justify taxation we need the additional assumption that rights enforcement cannot be done by the state at a profit, despite historical examples of societies where the right to enforce the law and collect the resulting fines was a marketable asset, and that the government cannot charge enough for the use of its roads to compensate the owners whose land was condemned.

A second general problem with Epstein’s argument is that he overestimates the ability of his proposed rules to constrain state action. He writes: "It is easy to see why the state should keep its hands off the substantive terms of labor contracts in a deductive libertarian world....Systems of price and rent control similarly go by the boards, as does the full range of tariffs, anti-dumping laws, and other impediments to international trade."

In a world with income taxes, the state cannot keep its hands off the substantive terms of labor contracts because it has to define which terms do or do not count as income. And it requires only a moderate degree of economic ingenuity to create coordination arguments for state-imposed restrictions on labor contracts designed to reduce the deadweight burden from taxation or solve subtle problems of adverse selection.

Tariffs are an even clearer case. The infant industry argument for tariffs -- the idea that trade barriers are needed to help a potentially competitive industry get started -- can be, and has been, recast as a coordination argument, in which one’s firms activities in a new industry are alleged to produce external benefits for other firms in the industry. And it is straightforward to show that a country in a monopoly position as either a producer or consumer can use a tariff or export tax to extract monopoly returns from its trading partners.

There are many other examples of government policies that Epstein does not like but that could be defended on his principles, including government involvement in education, in research, and in the production and regulation of information. His exceptions swallow his rule, leaving us with everything up for grabs -- and familiar public choice reasons to expect that far too much of it will be grabbed.

Epstein hopes to prevent this outcome by better institutional design. Perhaps that is the best we can do. But there are at least two other alternatives worth serious consideration.

The first is the extreme version of the libertarian state: no coercion beyond a monopoly on retaliatory force. Such a state will do less well for us than a state that initiates coercion in the rare circumstances where doing so produces large benefits. But it might do considerably better than the realistic alternative: Epstein’s society as we can expect to see it actually implemented, in a world with plentiful arguments for extensive uses of state power and strong incentives to act on them.

The second alternative is to eliminate state coercion by eliminating the state. In that world, some coordination problems will go unsolved, making the result worse than the world that would be produced by a state run by perfectly wise and virtuous libertarians. But eliminating the state also eliminates the largest coordination problem of all: the problem of controlling the state. Given the record so far, that is a more serious problem than how to build roads without the power of eminent domain.

David Friedman is a professor in both the law school and the economics department of Santa Clara University. His first book was The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to a Radical Capitalism (Open Court). His most recent is Law’s Order: What Economics Has to Do With Law and Why It Matters (Princeton University Press). A draft of his next book, Future Imperfect, can be found on his Web page.

Beyond Economics: Freedom is more than dollars and cents: James P. Pinkerton:

Richard Epstein makes the useful point that libertarianism should be embedded in a practical philosophy, and he offers an elegant two-tier approach to deciding when and where to work toward the laudable goal of "expanding the scope of human freedom." I can’t quibble with his approach to the issues that fall within his purview, but I also can’t help but observe that the most important issues of the day seem to fall outside of that purview. Epstein’s circumscribed approach to libertarian philosophy will, I am afraid, also circumscribe libertarianism’s appeal and influence.

On the biggest issues of the day, Epstein is silent. I looked in vain for words such as drugs, pollution, immigration, foreign policy, terror, Iraq, or even Bush. That, to me, is the definition of a narrow piece. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I believe libertarians have an important contribution to make on the hottest of the hot-button issues: drug laws, immigration controls, environmental regulation (including the reality that the United States is involved in a host of international agreements that affect America, no matter what we do), biotech and stem cell research, and, most of all, the "war on terror," which affects everything from civil liberties to federal spending to the ongoing war in Iraq.

By comparison, the issues Epstein wants to grapple with fall mostly within the realm of economics, including the minimum wage, antidiscrimination rules, collective bargaining statutes, mandatory pensions, insurance regulations, price and rent controls, and tariffs. Opposition to all these statist measures is firmly in the libertarian tradition; as Epstein says, it’s all part of his plan to "reduce if not eliminate much of the welfare state."

Yet while it’s fine to pound away on any and all of these issues one more time, I wonder what the ROII -- Return on Intellectual Investment -- will be. Most people, certainly most economists, accept the general proposition that markets work, and so the fight of the future is over applying Smithian wisdom in specific cases. The Institute for Justice, for example, recently filed suit against the Louisiana Horticulture Commission, which cartelizes florists. Such market-freeing cases are important, and Epsteinian thinking can help. But for the most part, the national agenda has shifted away from economics to other issues that seem more pressing. Indeed, the U.S. seems to have settled into a complacent Clinton-Bush consensus that accepts the idea that if the economy is booming, federal revenues ought to be spent -- and then some. Today prospects for reducing, let alone eliminating, the welfare state seem poor.

At the same time, prospects for expanding the warfare state -- which will, in turn, further expand the welfare state -- seem excellent. In today’s America, the spending of blood and treasure for foreign wars -- even those, such as Iraq, that violate international law and are based on government deception -- is practically unquestioned. A government arrogant enough to lie, big time, will never be a modest government. And then, of course, having made more enemies around the world through offensive wars, Washington must spend more on "defense," including homeland defense. Finally, after pledging a welfare state for Iraq (Washington is now a gold rush for lobbyists and contractors brandishing newfound expertise in anything "Middle Eastern"), it will be impossible not to keep and expand the welfare state here at home. Just days after the 1918 armistice that ended World War I, British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George promised "a fit country for heroes to live in." Britain’s subsequent socialist bender proved that it’s possible for a country to win the war and then lose the peace, and thus betray its heroes.

In today’s America, war veterans will soon be granted larger benefits, but such expenditures will only be an overture to the lawsuits some of them are already filing against anyone with a deep pocket. When’s the last time President Bush made a real push against the trial lawyers? He can’t deal with tort reform or any domestic issue because he’s too busy vindicating his foreign policy.

In addition, a government that’s "strong" enough to rearrange the domestic affairs of other nations likely will feel equally confident about continuing to meddle in matters that should be private here at home, be they sexual, medical, or pharmacological. Randolph Bourne was so right: "War is the health of the state."

Some libertarians, of course, endorse the Bush Doctrine, explicitly with their words or implicitly with their silence. They argue, in effect, that the maintenance of freedom here requires us to force others to be free. I disagree with this neo-Rousseauean argument; I predict that if the Bush Doctrineers get their way, our future politics will go the cynical and perhaps dirigiste way of France, as every big-governmentalizing action is justified in the name of la gloire -- oops, I mean "democracy."

By all means, let’s have a debate about American imperialism. My fear is that if we don’t raise our voices, then libertarianism, a la Epstein, could become just a synonym for economics. In which case, we might have prosperity, but we won’t have peace, and we won’t have freedom.

James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday and TechCentralStation.com. He is also a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. He worked in the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and in the 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992 presidential campaigns.

A Moderate Responds: Richard A. Epstein

Of the two basic points I made in my initial remarks, one has escaped serious criticism: that the traditional natural law justifications for freedom are not sufficient to sustain the case for individual liberty or for limited government. We are, as it were, all consequentialists now. The particular debates, therefore, are more focused. Randy Barnett and David Friedman claim that any system of forced exchanges is likely to produce more mischief than it eliminates. James Pinkerton argues that any libertarian theory that obsesses on economics runs the risk of losing the large struggles over peace and freedom. Both criticisms deserve responses.

Barnett thinks state coercion is not justified as a means to overcome major coordination problems because the risk of abuse is greater than the potential gains from the method. But his examples do not support that conclusion. Of course, the citizens of Poletown didn’t want to not have their community ravaged for a pittance, nor did Donald Trump’s neighbors want their homes converted to his parking lot. But it is wrong to look at this one feature of the eminent domain equation in isolation. Barnett’s objections to eminent domain depend solely on the unknowable subjective value each person attaches to his or her possessions. But if that point is decisive, then eminent domain is also illegitimate when used to condemn land for national fortifications or public parks, when the public-use criterion cannot be contested at all.

Thus there are several real difficulties with Barnett’s examples. First, the private use in both cases expands eminent domain power where it is least needed. Second, the puny compensation offered systematically ignored the subjective value of the private landowners and the dislocations the taking brought into their lives. Narrow the permissible set of purposes for takings and boost the compensation, and this takings problem will shrink, without using the meat cleaver of incommensurate subjective values to savage eminent domain.

Next Barnett claims we don’t need eminent domain because private ingenuity can overcome holdout problems. But only sometimes. Private developers can use quiet tactics to assemble large parcels, but only because the law turns a blind eye to the low-level frauds that are used to mislead sellers about the buyer’s intentions. But governments acting through public debates and appropriations can’t use the same tactics to assemble land for highways. The history of oil and gas production, with the need to assemble and organize complex network industries, shows how holdout problems can stop development in its tracks. Indeed, the entire structure of property law rests on an implicit set of forced exchanges, which give first possessors, inventors, and writers priority over the rest of the world when astronomical transaction costs block voluntary negotiations. Too often private ingenuity blocks social coordination. It is much more sensible to stick with the more modest proposition that as transaction costs go down, the need for state intervention is reduced.

David Friedman’s remarks are vulnerable to both these and other objections. The societies to which he refers but does not name are small communities, such as medieval Iceland, where tiny numbers and kinship relationships eased the path to social organization. Modern societies have bowed to the inevitability of some taxation, even if they have not done enough to constrain its use.

Again, it is not enough for Friedman to list the instances where state power fails. My own view gives no scope for tariffs because local protection is their raison d’être, notwithstanding all the palaver about infant industries. By contrast, the state sponsorship of scientific research has created public goods; before I ruled the National Science Foundation out of bounds, I would examine the evidence that advances in health have more than repaid their cost. Improve the system, yes; abolish it, no.

Friedman’s pipe dream is that the alternative to limited government is no government at all. Not so. A large society with no central authority offers an open invitation to some sleazy individual to consolidate power in his own name. Constitutional government uses deliberation to expand the base of public support. Friedman’s void at the center promotes totalitarian rule, not individual liberty.

Pinkerton charges me with an excessive preoccupation with economics. In part, I plead guilty to the charge that a short essay did not cover the waterfront and offer this belated response. First, on matters of value, nothing says that only markets matter. Indeed, as Barnett’s comment and my reply to him indicate, one powerful reason for strong property rights is to allow people to pursue their subjective understanding of the good while respecting the like liberties of others. Nothing in my approach privileges certain kinds of preferences over others.

Let me turn next to Pinkerton’s lists of specific issues. Pollution, how it should be attacked and when (at low levels) it should be allowed, lies at the heart of any law and economics program. The drug question also is amenable to that approach. Does drug use impose a peril on nonusers that requires some intervention before the fact? If so, what? Here’s one three part program that might work: 1) abolish drug offenses, 2) remove all state subsidies for rehabilitation, and 3) refuse to reduce criminal responsibility by reason of voluntary drug use. As to terror, we all face the sticky tradeoff between liberty and security, where the only sensible program (even in Barnett’s universe) asks whether additional precautions are more intrusive than beneficial. This is the heart of law and economics. Uncertainty makes utilitarians of us all.

Bush and Iraq are topics on which lawyers don’t have much to say. I can predict what set of rules will help generate responsible political leaders, but I cannot make hard policy choices as a matter of general political theory. Just when should one nation intervene in the affairs of another, be it for humanitarian reasons or by way of anticipatory self-defense? Again, it is a matter of hard tradeoffs. But this is hardly an indictment of my approach. It only shows the great need for statecraft.

Nor does a focus on legal institutions trivialize issues such as character formation, family, or personal life. Here Pinkerton’s criticism of me echoes that which John Stuart Mill made of Jeremy Bentham. Bentham was weak on personal virtues. There’s a reason. Lawyers specialize in the question of how and when to use force. They deal with individuals as strangers, trading partners, family members, and litigants. Professionally, they don’t have any inside track on matters of character, duty, and virtue, however vital.

Any libertarian who thinks you can promote virtue solely by abstaining from force and fraud is smoking some banned substance. Character helps people choose the proper course of conduct among those that are legal. Legal and political theory do themselves a disservice when they poach on questions of personal behavior. They are at their best when they deal with matters of constitutional structure and political power. It’s nice, just this once, to occupy the odd position of being a moderate.

Monday DeLong Smackdown: Artists‘ Choices and Repeal, Replace, Delay

Jonathan Bernstein: Artists' Choices and Repeal, Replace, Delay: "Brad DeLong on what kind of president Trump will be...

...A lot here I agree with, but I think DeLong undervalues Ronald Reagan's appreciation of his audience -- his real audience, not just the one in his mind. Reagan (and not just the mythical Reagan, but, as DeLong says, the real one) was willing to back off on plans going wrong. For all of his considerable ability to believe stories that were not true, he was willing to accept that things he did could go wrong. I'm not confident Trump has that ability, and (unlike Reagan) unfortunately everything in Trump's brief political career has given him excuses for rejecting cautions from anyone. 

Weekend Reading: Adam Tooze: Goodbye to the American Century

Il Quarto Stato

Adam Tooze: USA: Goodbye to the American Century: "The rise and fall of US hegemony. Or Donald Trump and the sunset of American hegemony...

...The American Century is over. We can tell, not only because the Americans have elected a ludicrous President, but because, for all his nationalist braggadocio, Trump’s ambitions are so modest. He aspires, after all, only to make America great again.

Not only does this acknowledge America’s fallen state. It puts Trump’s Presidency on the level with the likes of Erdogan and Putin.

But greatness is for everyone.

The American century in its pomp was lit not by greatness, but by supremacy, the certainty of being called by destiny, divine or secular, to play a role that was not just unique, but above all others. This is the literal meaning of a message that echoed down the century from Woodrow Wilson, to FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush junior and Obama. The theological strain always sounded strange in foreign ears. But, will we miss it when it is gone?

Trump will not be the end of America as a global power. If Trump raises Pentagon spending, American military dominance may even increase. The technological prowess of Silicon Valley is unrivalled and is ever more seamlessly integrated with the network of global social media and information exchange. Wall Street remains the hub of global finance. The Fed is pivotal to global economic policy. American lawyers, management consultants, PR firms and lobbyists make up a global network of soft power. However uncomfortable it may be to deal with Trump’s administration, the America state anchors NATO and the alliance system in East Asia. Whatever happens to NAFTA, for Canada and Mexico, America will remain as an overbearing and inescapable neighbor.

America has not extinguished itself. But what it has extinguished is its claim to global political authority.

That authority had been on the wane anyway. Under George W. Bush the nimbus that surrounded the end of the Cold War, curdled into bitterly contested hubris. Appreciating the damage that Bush had wrought, Obama dialed down the rhetoric. But for domestic consumption he too offered a powerful message of America’s singular role, a claim heightened by his very person. In electing a black man as President, not only the United States but Europe too, saw the sins of colonialism and slavery atoned.

The promise of 2016 was that with Hillary Clinton the "woman question" too would find a belated answer. As Secretary of State Clinton had shown that she was a true inheritor of the 1990s mantle of American global leadership – far more so than Obama. Hence, the profound hostility she faced on the part of much of the US left and from the Russians. Clinton’s defeat at the hands of Trump thus marks a double break with the promise that "the arc of history bends towards hope", as Obama liked to put it, and any claim by America to lead the way.

Insofar as Trump is even aware of the significance of his retreat, he hails it as liberation. Now America can act like the others, he promises, they will fear us all the more. The sense that not being "like the others" was the whole point seems lost on him. This is the sense in which the American Century has ended. And this is what the world now has to deal with: a dominant superpower, still by far the most dominant that history has ever recorded, but shorn of aspiration to moral leadership.

For some, the ending of the century of American exceptionalism, will come as no great shock. In Central America, the Yankees came early, in force and without much respect for local sensitivities. They preferred, as they say, to put "boots on the ground". In Asia too America’s presence contained as much menace as it did promise. Disappointing the hopes of Chinese revolutionaries like Sun Yat-Sen, Washington’s backing for political progress after the revolution of 1911 was lukewarm to say the least. Eventually, America emerged as a strong promoter of democracy in Japan. But in Taiwan and South Korea it took its time, not to mention in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. And then there was the quagmire of Vietnam and the secret and lawless extension of that conflict to Cambodia and Laos. And this is before we get into the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Saudi, and Israel.

If there is anywhere in the world that actually has a deep stake in the normative image of the American century, it is Europe. Indeed, one might say that America’s century formed a whitewashed extension of Europe’s own remarkable period of global hegemony that lasted, for sake of argument, from 1757 and the victory of British forces over the Mughal army at Plassey on the banks of the Ganges, to the outbreak of World War I. But it is only in retrospect from a very high vantage point that this continuity seems real.

November 1916 was the first American Presidential election that European’s followed with bated breath, as if our fate depended on the outcome. As far as the Entente were concerned, then too, the wrong man won, Woodrow Wilson the anti-war candidate. Five months later Wilson was forced into Europe’s war, not of his own free will, but by Germany’s aggression -  unleashing the U Boats, inviting Mexico to join in an attack on Texas. America’s entry decided the war and made Wilson the dominant figure at Versailles.

But facing opposition both from the European powers and Japan, and fierce partisan resistance at home, Wilson’s lost his grip. Within weeks of leaving the peace conference, in the autumn of 1919 the first American president to pretend to world leadership was humiliated by an oppositional Republican majority in Congress that vetoed ratification and disowned American membership in Wilson’s own creation, the League of Nations. It then went on to refuse to negotiate a reduction in war debts, impose a ban on immigration, shut out European trade. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve, hiked interest rates, sucking gold back into the US, at a time when Europe was gasping for credit.

This was the first spectacular failure of American leadership that marked the 20th century. It was out of the ensuing chaos, by the 1930s that emerged the aggressive coalition featuring Imperial Japan, Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. And yet in February 1941 when the owner of Time magazine, Henry Luce sat down to write his famous article announcing the promise of an American century, his country was still on the sidelines. Luce was appealing desperately for action, not describing a reality. American industry was growing fat on war deliveries to Britain. Washington stood ready to inherit global power. America’s people hoped for the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. But they were not in the war and preferred not to join, if they could avoid it.

It took Pearl Harbor to stir them to action. Like 911 it hit a nerve that would turn America’s war into a righteous battle of self-defense and allow its ideological stakes to be rapidly expanded and to go on expanding until they reached the global reach of Cold War containment.

It was out of such moments of high contingency, of internal and external conflict, of deep political and moral ambiguity that the American century was fashioned. Out of a world of grey, what emerged was black and white: a new narrative of the dark European continent, for the second time in barely more than a generation, in need of American salvation.

It was a powerful historical narrative around which to organize trans-Atlantic relations after 1945. It underpinned NATO, still the most potent and historically successful military alliance in history. But those that America eventually came to help in 1941, the British, the French, the Russians, the Chinese have written deep in their historical consciousness, the ambiguity and contingency of that moment. Making the American century, even for its most favored allies, involved sacrifices and profound disappointments. It involved buying into myths, indeed helping to make them.

There was no greater exponent of this art of Making History than Winston Churchill with this narrative of the historic triumph of the English-speaking peoples. It was not for nothing that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This joint fashioning of the American century, was part of what made Europe different. And it was no small thing. It helped to add normative meaning to America’s evident preponderance of power in military, technological and financial terms, transforming preponderance into hegemony. How the world will react to a power deliberately stripped of even the pretense of legitimation is the question posed by Trump.

It will be difficult for everyone. But if there is any polity for which this will be particularly so, it is the Federal Republic. The rhetorical justification for the American century was fashioned first by painting the Kaiser and then Hitler as a historic evil. Conversely, it was the "good American hegemon" that made and remade Germany, three times over: First the Weimar Republic and then the Federal Republic, not once but twice. There is no state for which the "good America" is more foundational than modern Germany. Stresemann, Adenauer and Merkel’s Germanies are its products.

It is not a question of identity, of course. At home the two societies are profoundly different. But what America has hitherto solved for Germany, is the problem of international relations, of power, of Germany’s relationship to the world. The Cold War, NATO, American-sponsored European integration, the United Nations, these were the frame. It is not for nothing that the most neuralgic moments of tension between Germany and the US flared on the "periphery", over Iran and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, over Israel in the 1980s and 1990s, and Iraq in 2003.

What we face today, however, is more fundamental. In 2003 German Foreign minister Joschka Fischer demanded answers from Donald Rumsfeld. Where was the evidence that would justify the war against Saddam? He thus presupposed that the war had to be justified and he did so, spontaneously, in English, to demonstrate his commitment to the shared values of western democracy.

Rumsfeld never answered, but the point was made.

Can one even imagine a similar confrontation with Trump?

The election of Trump suggests that America’s relationship not just to the world, but to a supposedly common reality has undergone a change. Empowered by the elections a minority of Americans wishes to throw off America’s anchoring role in the discursive community of the West. From this emerges a fundamental challenge: After America abandons its Sonderweg, what is Germany’s place in a world?

Weekend Reading: George Orwell (1946): In Front of Your Nose

School of Athens

George Orwell (1946): In Front of Your Nose: "Many recent statements in the press have declared...

...that it is almost, if not quite, impossible for us to mine as much coal as we need for home and export purposes, because of the impossibility of inducing a sufficient number of miners to remain in the pits. One set of figures which I saw last week estimated the annual ‘wastage’ of mine workers at 60,000 and the annual intake of new workers at 10,000. Simultaneously with this—and sometimes in the same column of the same paper—there have been statements that it would be undesirable to make use of Poles or Germans because this might lead to unemployment in the coal industry. The two utterances do not always come from the same sources, but there must certainly be many people who are capable of holding these totally contradictory ideas in their heads at a single moment.

This is merely one example of a habit of mind which is extremely widespread, and perhaps always has been.

Bernard Shaw, in the preface to "Androcles and the Lion", cites as another example the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which starts off by establishing the descent of Joseph, father of Jesus, from Abraham. In the first verse, Jesus is described as ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham’, and the genealogy is then followed up through fifteen verses: then, in the next verse but one, it is explained that as a matter of fact Jesus was not descended from Abraham, since he was not the son of Joseph.

This, says Shaw, presents no difficulty to a religious believer, and he names as a parallel case the rioting in the East End of London by the partisans of the Tichborne Claimant, who declared that a British working man was being done out of his rights.

Medically, I believe, this manner thinking is called schizophrenia: at any rate, it is the power of holding simultaneously two beliefs which cancel out. Closely allied to it is the power of igniting facts which are obvious and unalterable, and which will have to be faced sooner or later. It is especially in our political thinking that these vices flourish. Let me take a few sample subjects out of the hat. They have no organic connexion with each other: they are merely cased, taken almost at random, of plain, unmistakable facts being shirked by people who in another part of their mind are aware to those facts.

  1. Hong Kong: For years before the war everyone with knowledge of Far Eastern conditions knew that our position in Hong Kong was untenable and that we should lose it as soon as a major war started. This knowledge, however, was intolerable, and government after government continued to cling to Hong Kong instead of giving it back to the Chinese. Fresh troops were even pushed into it, with the certainty that they would be uselessly taken prisoner, a few weeks before the Japanese attack began. The war came, and Hong Kong promptly fell — as everyone had known all along that it would do.

  2. Conscription: For years before the war, nearly all enlightened people were in favour of standing up to Germany: the majority of them were also against having enough armaments to make such a stand effective. I know very well the arguments that are put forward in defence of this attitude; some of them are justified, but in the main they are simply forensic excuses. As late as 1939, the Labour Party voted against conscription, a step which probably played its part in bringing about the Russo-German Pact and certainly had a disastrous effect on morale in France. Then came 1940 and we nearly perished for lack of a large, efficient army, which we could only have had if we had introduced conscription at least three years earlier.

  3. The Birthrate: Twenty or twenty-five years ago, contraception and enlightenment were held to be almost synonymous. To this day, the majority of people argue—the argument is variously expressed, but always boils down to more or less the same thing—that large families are impossible for economic reasons. At the same time, it is widely known that the birthrate is highest among the low-standard nations, and, in our population, highest among the worst-paid groups. It is also argued that a smaller population would mean less unemployment and more comfort for everybody, while on the other hand it is well established that a dwindling and ageing population is faced with calamitous and perhaps insoluble economic problems. Necessarily the figures are uncertain, but it is quite possible that in only seventy years our population will amount to about eleven millions, over half of whom will be Old Age Pensioners. Since, for complex reasons, most people don't want large families, the frightening facts can exist some where or other in their consciousness, simultaneously known and not known.

  4. U.N.O.: In order to have any efficacy whatever, a world organization must be able to override big states as well as small ones. It must have power to inspect and limit armaments, which means that its officials must have access to every square inch of every country. It must also have at its disposal an armed force bigger than any other armed force and responsible only to the organization itself. The two or three great states that really matter have never even pretended to agree to any of these conditions, and they have so arranged the constitution of U.N.O. that their own actions cannot even be discussed. In other words, U.N.O.'s usefulness as an instrument of world peace is nil. This was just as obvious before it began functioning as it is now. Yet only a few months ago millions of well-informed people believed that it was going to be a success.

There is no use in multiplying examples. The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

When one looks at the all-prevailing schizophrenia of democratic societies, the lies that have to be told for vote-catching purposes, the silence about major issues, the distortions of the press, it is tempting to believe that in totalitarian countries there is less humbug, more facing of the facts. There, at least, the ruling groups are not dependent on popular favour and can utter the truth crudely and brutally. Goering could say ‘Guns before butter’, while his democratic opposite numbers had to wrap the same sentiment up in hundreds of hypocritical words.

Actually, however, the avoidance of reality is much the same everywhere, and has much the same consequences. The Russian people were taught for years that they were better off than everybody else, and propaganda posters showed Russian families sitting down to abundant meal while the proletariat of other countries starved in the gutter. Meanwhile the workers in the western countries were so much better off than those of the U.S.S.R. that non-contact between Soviet citizens and outsiders had to be a guiding principle of policy. Then, as a result of the war, millions of ordinary Russians penetrated far into Europe, and when they return home the original avoidance of reality will inevitably be paid for in frictions of various kinds. The Germans and the Japanese lost the war quite largely because their rulers were unable to see facts which were plain to any dispassionate eye.

To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one's opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one's subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one's thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic.

In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one's weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean word where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one's political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.

(Early) Monday Smackdown: The Washington Post and Chris Cillizza

Duncan Black: Eschaton: America's Worst Humans: "Chris Cillizza. I'm sure Cillizza got his career opportunities through nothing other than the pure meritocracy...

...that exists in our free market Nirvana. Certainly he got none of the breaks that blah people do. Still if he wasn't doing this, I don't see how he wouldn't be under a bridge somewhere.

Scott Lemieux: Love Is Always Scarpering, Or Cowering, Or Fawning: "This month’s Cillizza Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field Of Hackdom goes to… Chris Cillizza:

@TheFix: You should watch this Paul Ryan town hall on CNN. The guy is extremely impressive.

@OnceUponA: It is very difficult to have a working understanding of health policy and simultaneously be impressed by his answers on ACA. https://t.co/NTdpL9gTIw

You can watch Ryan’s comments about health care yourself, but they’re evasive gibberish when they’re not outright dishonest. The idea that state high-risk pools — especially at the levels the GOP would plausibly fund them — could effectively cover people with pre-existing conditions is a joke. (More here.) The claim that insurance markets are in a “death spiral” is a flat-out lie. His assertions that the proposed Republican reforms would provide better and cheaper policy options was supported by no detail whatsoever. Ryan, as always, is the anthithesis of impressive, and yet his media reputation as a Real Wonky Man of Seriousity never fades.

To be Scrupulously Fair, Ryan’s primary goal to offer worse or no health insurance to more than 20 million people to pay for upper-class tax cuts does has not, to the best of my knowledge, deviated from best practices in email management.

Weekend Reading: J. William Ward: „The Hunters of Kentucky“: The Kentucky Strain of American Nationalism Has Always Been Fake News…

Cursor and battle of new orleans Google Search

J. William Ward (1962): Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age 0195006992 http://amzn.to/2jAbLvi: "IN the spring of 1822, Noah M. Ludlow, prominent in the beginnings of the theater in the western United States...

...was in New Orleans. One day early in May he received, as was the custom in the early theater, a ‘benefit’ night. Remembering the occasion some years later, Ludlow could not recollect what pieces had been acted on that evening but he did recall doing something that was as a rule ‘entirely out of [his] line of business.’ As an added attraction he had sung a song he thought might please the people. The song was ‘The Hunters of Kentucky.’

The lyrics of ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ had been written by Samuel Woodworth, better known today for having written ‘The Old Oaken Bucket.’ Noah claimed his brother had seen the poem and since it ‘tickled his fancy’ had sent it along to New Orleans. Noah adapted the words to the tune ‘Miss Baily,’ which was taken from the comic opera Love Laughs at Locksmiths, and decided to sing it for his New Orleans audience. When the night came [remembered Noah]:

I found the pit, or parquette, of the theatre crowded full of ‘river men,’—that is, keel-boat and flat-boat men. There were very few steamboat men. These men were easily known by their linsey-woolsey clothing and blanket coats. As soon as the comedy of the night was over, I dressed myself in a buckskin hunting-shirt and leggins, which I had borrowed of a river man, and with moccasins on my feet, and an old slouched hat on my head, and a rifle on my shoulder, I presented myself before the audience. I was saluted with loud applause of hands and feet, and a prolonged whoop, or howl, such as Indians give when they are especially pleased.

I sang the first verse, and these extraordinary manifestations of delight were louder and longer than before; but when I came to the following lines:

But Jackson he was wide awake,
and wasn’t scared with trifles,
For well he knew what aim we take
with our Kentucky rifles;
So he marched us down to “Cyprus Swamp”;
The ground was low and mucky;
There stood “John Bull,” in martial pomp,
But here was old Kentucky.

As I delivered the last five words, I took my old hat off my head, threw it upon the ground, and brought my rifle to the position of taking aim. At that instant came a shout and an Indian yell from, the inmates of the pit, and a tremendous applause from other portions of the house, the whole lasting for nearly a minute, and, as Edmund Kean told his wife, after his first great success in London, ‘the house rose to me!’ The whole pit was standing up and shouting. I had to sing the song three times that night before they would let me off.

Thus was launched one of America’s most popular songs.

Its popularity quickly became a source of annoyance to Ludlow since he was forced to sing it two or three times wherever he appeared. It plagued him so that he gave it to the local papers thinking to kill it but he achieved the opposite result; he simply created a wider audience for the song. ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ became so popular ‘that you could hear it sung or whistled almost any day as you passed along the principal thoroughfares of the city.’

The widespread circulation of the song was helped along by friends of Andrew Jackson who recognized its use and printed and circulated large editions of it; Thomas Low Nichols remembered that in 1828 ‘the land rang with “The Hunters of Kentucky.”’ At Jackson Day Dinners on the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans the song was rendered as part of the entertainment and sometimes sung by the whole company seated at dinner. As one anonymous student of campaign songs says, ‘“The Hunters of Kentucky” had much to do with arousing sentiment [for Jackson in 1828].’ A contemporary of the period in which ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ had its greatest vogue remarked about campaign songs in general that ‘it is not necessary that [a song] should possess much literary merit; if it condenses into some rhythmic form, a popular thought, emotion or purpose.’

The question then is: what popular thought or emotion is expressed in ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’? Taken over almost immediately for political purposes, the song is the final expression given to a widely held assumption why Andrew Jackson was able to defeat the British at New Orleans. In ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ version of the battle, the terrible slaughter inflicted upon the British was the result of the skill of the frontier rifleman. As might be anticipated from the fact that it worked its way into a popular song, this version of the Battle of New Orleans was widely current from 1815 until it received its classic enunciation in Ludlow’s presentation in 1822.

Before we examine ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ version of the victory at New Orleans and its popular acceptance, it can be flatly asserted that Jackson’s overwhelming victory can in no way be attributed to the sharpshooting skill of the American frontiersman; further, that fact was recognized by those who took part in the battle and also in the immediate newspaper accounts of the battle. So what we have in ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ is the imputation to a historical event of a cause which has no basis except in the widespread desire of Americans to believe their own imaginative construction of the battle....

Although it is true that the British were sitting-ducks for the American army, the fact does not necessarily detract from the skill of the American riflemen, although skill would seem to be irrelevant in the circumstances. Two other considerations, however, clinch the case against the marksmanship brief. One is that the Americans simply could not see well enough to bring to bear any skill they may have possessed. A participant’s letter, although marked by a certain lack of critical balance, suggests this: ‘The atmosphere was filled with sheets of fire and volumes of smoke… Our men … took steady and deliberate aim, and almost every shot told.’

Not only was the field obscured by the smoke of battle, but the attack was made in the half-light of dawn and fine shooting was impossible. One of the actual riflemen recalled that:

it was so dark that little could be seen, until just about the time that the battle ceased… the smoke was so thick that everything seemed to be covered up in it.

Contemporary accounts contained some ambiguous statements, such as the one in the letter to the National Intelligencer just quoted, but in general the first news of the battle correctly attributed the havoc done among the British to the American cannon, rather than to rifle fire. The National Intelligencer, Extra, the first eastern announcement of the battle, carried a letter from an American officer who referred to the terrible toll of British dead and wounded as ‘being generally from our cannon.’ Another on the scene account said:

Our artillery was fired upon their whole columns, about an hour and a half, within good striking distance, whilst advancing and retreating, with grape & cannister; and the slaughter must have been great.

Andrew Jackson’s victory address to his troops on January 21, 1815, also recognized the prime importance of the American cannon fire. The condition of the British casualties testified further to the source of their wounds: ‘their wounds are horrible—they are indeed mutilated—there is none of them who have less than three or four wounds, and some have even eight and ten; they have been thus crippled by our grape shot.’ Even when those on the scene attributed the American victory to ‘sheer superiority in firing’ there was no mention of what kind of firing.

Despite available records as to what did happen at New Orleans, there gradually arose the legend that the British were slaughtered because of the sharpshooting skill of the American frontiersman. The first anecdotes which circulated through the nation were plausible, even if, as one suspects, apocryphal. One particularly went the rounds. It was copied from paper to paper, always under the same heading, ‘Sharp Shooting.’ It told of the death of the British officer who led the attack on the American right flank and who was killed after taking possession of the isolated redoubt there. After the battle there was some argument among the American militia about who had been responsible for killing the officer, a Colonel Rennie:

One said if Rannie [sic] had been shot just below the left eye he would claim the merit, otherwise not—for that is where he had aimed the ball. On inspection, it was found that Rannie had been shot as predicted by the marksman!

Since Rennie had penetrated right to the American line there is a possibility that this anecdote might have been founded in truth and that such a feat of marksmanship had been executed. However, the British officer who conveyed the news of Rennie’s death to his relatives in England, and who had examined his body after the battle, reported that Rennie had died of two bullet wounds in the head which suggests that he fell under a hail of bullets and not by the act of a single marksman.

Similar to this story was the one about the ‘Humane Rifleman.’ This concerned a Tennesseean who beckoned to an English officer reconnoitering the American line prior to the battle to come in and surrender, which the officer did. When asked why, the Englishman replied, ‘I had no alternative; for I have been told these d—d Yankee riflemen can pick a squirrel’s eye out as far as they can see it.’

Neither of these anecdotes, be it observed, relates to the main battle area, although both obviously attest to the belief in the frontiersman as an excellent rifleman.

In 1820, two years before Noah Ludlow enshrined the legend of ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ in song, Marshal Count Bertrand Clausel, who at Salamanca had commanded the French division that had been defeated by Packenham, and Count Desnoettes, who had been with Napoleon at Moscow, visited the battlefield of New Orleans. These gallant and distinguished Frenchmen [relates Walker, the contemporary historian of the Battle of New Orleans]

…were greatly puzzled to know how such good soldiers as the English could be repulsed by so weak a force from such trifling fortifications. ‘Ah!’ exclaimed Marshall Clausel, after some moments of reflection, ‘I see how it all happened. When these Americans go into battle they forget they are not hunting deer or shooting turkeys and try never to throw away a shot.’

And there [remarks Walker] was the whole secret of the defeat, which the British have ascribed to so many different causes.

Thus the story grew until the author of An Epick Poem on the Battle of New Orleans could characterize Jackson’s fighting force in this fashion:

…Rude their sun-burnt men, In simple garb of foresters are seen— But mark—they know with death the bead to sight, And draw the centre of the heart in fight.

And the account of the Battle of New Orleans in The Jackson Wreath could sum up the conflict with the statement that ‘the fatal aim of the western marksmen was never so terribly exemplified.’

It would not be worth establishing the fact that contemporaries were mistaken in ascribing the cause of the victory at New Orleans to the skill of the western frontiersman, if there were nothing more to the matter than a mistake. But in singling out ‘the western farmer,’ or ‘the frontiersman,’ as the cause of the victory, the imagination of the American people was trying to make the account of the Battle of New Orleans buttress one of its favorite concepts; that, as I suggested in commenting on Representative Troup’s speech, ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ version of the Battle of New Orleans is an attempt to establish the empowering force of nature as the cause of the American victory over the disciplined soldiery of Europe. The point is not that frontier life did not create good marksmen, which it may have, but that a prevailing attitude toward nature caused Americans to ascribe the victory at New Orleans to the frontier farmer although the facts did not support such a version.

Jackson himself implicitly accepted the view that nature was somehow in the background of the American victory. In his address, ‘To the Embodied Militia,’ on December 28, 1814, before the main engagement, Jackson complimented his ‘fellow citizens and soldiers’ on their noble ardor:

Inhabitants of an opulent and commercial town [he went on to say], you have by a spontaneous effort shaken off the habits, which are created by wealth, and shewn that you are resolved to deserve the blessings of fortune by bravely defending them.

Jackson’s thought is here stated in terms of historical primitivism. It is assumed that the advance of wealth and material well-being saps moral and physical strength. Negatively there is the implication that the condition of man in a state of nature is somehow superior. One will notice, however, that Jackson is addressing the inhabitants of an opulent and commercial town; there would be no sense in making a statement such as this to farmers from the frontier regions of Kentucky.

We thus come to realize that ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ account of the Battle of New Orleans has drastically altered the facts to fit its particular version. Concentration on the marksmanship of the frontiersman has required the neglect of a large number of others who were also engaged in the defense of New Orleans. Thus, what is the most popular account of Jackson’s victory has no place for the part played by the French Creoles, the Free Men of Color, the regular troops, the Barratarian Pirates, or the citizens of the city of New Orleans. Of the 3,569 troops on the line on the morning of the eighth, only 2100, Coffee’s and Adair’s men, fit the frontiersman category. This means that ‘The Hunters of Kentucky’ version has, by its focus, been forced to dismiss more than 41 per cent of the total from consideration, a considerable alteration of the facts. Of the Kentucky troops on hand, most were held in reserve, back of the main line of defense, for the very good reason that only 550 arrived with any arms. Jackson complained that ‘hardly one-third of the Kentucky troops, so long expected, are armed, and the arms they have are not fit for use.’

The fact that no more than one-third of the Hunters of Kentucky had rifles in their hands during the battle further depreciates the legend of their sharpshooting at New Orleans.

It is almost too happy for present purposes that after the Battle of New Orleans had ended a controversy arose over the relative shooting ability of General Coffee’s famed mounted brigade of Tennessee Volunteers and Beale’s Rifle Company which was composed of ‘leading merchants and professional characters of the city, who had formed themselves into a volunteer corps.’ To decide the issue a shooting match was held; against the frontiersmen, fresh from their plows, the inhabitants of an opulent city won the trial of skill.

The view that it was the special worth of the American frontiersman that accounts for Jackson’s victory was not only unhistorical, it was astigmatic. The assertion of the frontiersman not only dictated a cause of victory which simply did not pertain, it demanded the rejection of all who did not fit its particular version, who did not spring from frontier life...

(Late) Monday Smackdown: The Intellectual Bar for Eminence on the Right Is Very Low Indeed…

Comment of the Day: James: Nancy Letourneau: Republican Confusion Over Obamacare Repeal: "Hoisted from 2012 http://www.bradford-delong.com/2012/10/john-podhoretz-badly-needs-some-better-friends-than-fred-barnes.html...

...But there is something serious to be written here about Orwell, "1984", and the ability of the Inner Party to keep its understanding of the world separate from the propaganda they feed to the Outer Party and to the proles.

I always assumed they knew this and were just trying to figure out who to blame when they didn't pass a plan.


Hoisted from 2012: John Podhoretz Badly Needs Some Better Friends than Fred Barnes...: Watch Fred Barnes snooker John Podhoretz in real time--and then watch Podhoretz get angry at those of us who point out to him that Barnes has snookered him https://twitter.com/jpodhoretz:

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: Battleground Poll has Romney 52-57. In response, Nate Silver raises probability of Obama win to 99 44/100% pure.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: Correcting earlier tweet: Battleground poll Romney 52-47. In response, Nate Silver raises Obama victory likelihood to 99 44/100 % pure

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: link to [Fred Barnes] Battleground Poll story: http://t.co/wcm3bInE…

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: OK, somebody's wrong. Fred Barnes says Battleground has Romney by 5, Politico says Obama by 1.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @HotlineJosh Very strange. Barnes piece is very specific.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @HotlineJosh hmmm

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @bobdoty it's their poll!

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: Sorry for confusion. Battleground poll: 49-48O. Battleground PROJECTION of final vote: 52-47R.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @LoganDobson the reporting in this poll this morning is a bit of a mess.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @jpodhoretz @LoganDobson on this poll, I mean

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @delong seems like the confusion over al, this is general across the Internets.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: The battleground poll will be reported as "Obama +1". Out of 1000 respondents, 484 chose Romney, 487 chose Obama. It's just rounding.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: "Movement" from the last week's poll? 4 fewer respondents (actual number, not %) went for Mitt, 12 more for Obama. Margin of error stuff.

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @delong don't insult my friend [i.e., Fred Barnes]

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: This is a very close race. #captainobvioustweets

John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz: @delong you are evidently even more of a jerk than your jerky blog would have led me to believe.

Very funny, yes.

But there is something serious to be written here about Orwell, "1984", and the ability of the Inner Party to keep its understanding of the world separate from the propaganda they feed to the Outer Party and to the proles.

Anybody feel like writing it so that I can link to it?

1 2 3 77